Skiing through trees - or tree skiing as it is more known within the skiing world - can be one of the most magical days on the mountain if conditions are right.
But you’ve got to know how to do it safely. So here are our top tips to doing it safely, and skilfully....
Go where your ability allows, and plan an exit point
Pick somewhere that offers a combination of widely-spaced trees and gentle slopes - and plan where you will enter and where you will exit.
You do not want to clear the trees and end up somewhere you do not want to be: in an avalanche risk zone, far out of resort, or on the edge of a cliff!
Always remember to focus and look at where you want to go and what you want to do - not only where you don’t want to go.
This sounds like common sense but the more you look at the tree you don’t want to hit, the drop you don’t want to fall off, or another hazard, the less you are focusing on where you want to be. So the risk of something unpredictable happening increases.
Plan ahead, look for your next turn, this is about anticipating the terrain, not just reaction.
When it comes to off-piste skiing between trees there is no real difference to regular skiing technique off-piste, other than the obstacles/trees that you really need to avoid colliding with.
However, because there are now trees to avoid, many get apprehensive and doubt their ability.
Your technique should not change greatly from regular off-piste skiing. But there are a few adjustments you can make…
- Hands up- Bring your hands and arms up in front of you to protect your face from branches as you go between trees, particularly if you are going in tight trees.
- Tips up! - If you do not have specialist powder skis or boards when heading off-piste, you may want to lift your tips/front of your board more than usual to avoid dipping too deep and catching branches.
- Unstrap your poles - This may divide opinion but in my view it’s better to retrieve a dropped pole, that got caught in a tree, rather than fix a dislocated shoulder!
Safety in numbers
As with any outdoor/adventure sport and activity, you should always be cautious when venturing off the beaten track and never go at it alone.
So, if you are eyeing up some beautiful off-piste powder-filled glade and fancy heading towards it, remember:
Ski/board with at least one other person, and keep an eye on each other. The saying “no friends on a powder day” doesn't apply if venturing off piste. Always ski and ride with a partner, always!
In the trees, this means keeping them in sight at all times.
If you are off-piste you should take all of the regular off-piste precautions too:
- Check snow conditions, avalanche risk (avalanches can still happen in tree fields)
- Take avalanche safety equipment: transceiver, probe, shovel, abs pack.
Beware tree wells
Tree Wells, what are they?
When lots of snow falls around the tree, the branches at the lower reaches of the tree tend to prevent snow from accumulating densely around the trunk.
Instead, snow piles just outside the edges of the lowest branches and forms an unstable well around the base of the tree.
When you come close to the edge of that well - especially after a big snow storm - the snow around the base of the tree can collapse and down you go, into the tree well.
In the worst case scenario, this can pull you into the well headfirst and, believe me, it can be almost impossible to get out of a tree well without help.
And while many of the risks associated with backcountry skiing are mitigated at a ski resort (avalanche control, as an example) tree wells cannot be controlled or predicted the way avalanches can.
Tree wells exist in the trees wherever there is snow. So even on a bluebird powder day at your local resort, the dangers of tree wells are as real and present as they are in the backcountry. This is a more common concern in North America and Canada than Europe, but can still happen where trees and heavy snowfall meet.
If you fall into a tree well, don’t panic!
Take your skis off if you can, get upright, or try to roll downhill. Use what’s solid (tree, skis, your poles in an X pattern) to climb out. This is when you will be glad to ski/board with friends and have kept an eye on each other.
Also, see this guide from wikiHow on escaping a tree well!
That’s it from us – any more tips on how to ski through trees?
And for further information on the preparations needed when going off-piste, see our other blog guide on off-piste skiing...